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Religion Library: Methodist

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Ted Vial

The Lord's Supper (or, Communion or, the Eucharist) has been particularly controversial in Methodism. John Wesley, an Anglican priest, believed that Christ was really present in the bread and the wine used to commemorate Jesus' last supper with his disciples.The Anglican Church doctrine follows that of John Calvin very closely here.The Articles of Religion state that "The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner."Wesley argued that it should be celebrated weekly, though most Methodist churches celebrate it monthly or quarterly.

But the Lord's Supper has often been down played in Methodism because of Methodism's particular historical development.Methodism was spread by itinerant preachers, often not ordained (and therefore not able to bless the bread and wine and perform the Lord's Supper).It emphasized outdoor preaching and revivals in which a rousing sermon played the main role.It reached out to the lower classes and industrial masses often underserved by the Anglican Church.And so the Lord's Supper was often not celebrated, sometimes seemed less important than preaching, and often smacked of being "high church" rather than something with which most people could identify.Some Methodists call the table on which the sacrament is celebrated an "altar," because the ceremony commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus.Others reject the use of the word "altar" because it connotes priests making sacrifices to God, which would make the Lord's Supper a human work.Instead they argue that God needs nothing from humans, and grace flows from God to humans with no regard to human works or merit.

Study Questions:
     1.    How are Sunday ceremonies structured?
     2.    What actions are considered Methodist rites?
     3.    Describe Methodism's understanding of baptism.
     4.    How has tradition shaped Methodism's understanding of the Lord's Supper?


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